Winner of “Best Debutante Author of The Year” award by literature festival Sarjanaa, Debajani Mohanty is an engineering graduate and senior I.T. professional with a career of nearly one and half decades. Her interests
include music, history, world cuisines and women education & empowerment. The nature of her work as well as passion for different cultures has made her travel half of the living world. “The Curse of Damini” her debut novel though crafted as a thriller is actually a historical fiction that covers seven decades of India’s past and portrays many age-old vices against women. She started writing this 3 years back after the barbaric Nirbhaya episode of Delhi and her work is a small effort towards ending the violence and discrimination against women in society. Debajani is married and lives in Delhi/NCR with her husband and two daughters.
So we reviewed her debut book and we loved it and is proudly placed in my library. We had a quick talk with Debajani about the book
1. The book talks about a spirited young freedom fighter. What made you write this book?
The story was conceptualized after the Nirbhaya incident in Delhi more than 3 years back. Those were the days when like many women of the national capital I lost my appetite, sleep and was totally depressed. And that was the time. As the verses of Bhagvad Gita says “Yada Yada hi Dharmasya..” in my mind the protagonist Renuka Pal came forth. To make this iconic character sound real and believable, I presented her as a freedom-fighter in the introductory chapter.
The essence of the novel lies in its message that I wished to pass on to the world especially women, “Arise, awake! Gone are the days to be damsel in distress. Take Ownership of Your Life, take control.”
Financial independence of women plays a vital role in this novel as I strongly believe it can end most of the pain (such as Sati, female foeticide, infanticide, dowry, domestic violence) women had to bear and still doing even in today’s day-to-day life. With a strong will, adequate planning and dedication, we can bring about a great social reform affecting millions of people during the process.
2. Setting a perfect plot and blending facts and fictions are never easy. You did a great job there. What are the things you take care when you mix facts and fiction?
Many incidents quoted in this novel are real, extracted from the life of my legendary grandparents; for example the sea-voyage, my late grandfather’s education in BHU, his work as a pioneer Hydro Electrical engineer in early-independent India, my feisty as well as kind grandmother who initiated a small business on her own that multiplied manifolds in her lifetime.
To be honest with you, more than 80% incidents in the novel are real that I have heard either from my grandmother or women of similar age-group. One can easily feel the pain when a young, helpless Damini casting her curse, Papia committing suicide or when Renuka’s widowed mother is asking for meat in her death-bed. Those were first-hand experiences of real people; bloody events that could not be conveyed through their tongue but with my pen.
Assembling so many real incidents and to give it the shape of fiction was not easy. It needed lots of research beyond simple search on Google. I had to read more than 50 distinguished books of that era that also includes “My experiment with Trust” by Mahatma Gandhi, “The Discovery of India” by Pandit Nehru and many more to gather finer details of life of that era.
3. Debut book writing is never easy. How tough was this one for you?
Many years back an acclaimed astrologer had predicted I would beget three children in life. “The Curse of Damini” is my third child, my brainchild and instead of nine months I hold her with me for three long years. The pangs of childbirth are painful, yet it’s a memorable and pleasing event in a woman’s life. So was “The Curse of Damini”.
4. There are many books that I read that have changed my life. What are your life changing books?
As an avid reader I love stories that stay with me for weeks, months or even years. Saying so I think the tales that inspired me at so many different fronts are definitely Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagvad Gita, Bible and Quran as they are derived from some of the first and foremost fables of mankind and offer so much to learn on history and humanities.
Among the hundreds of legendary books I have read so far, I would like to name one that came to me early in life and set footprint in me forever. “Gone with the wind” was one such a novel that I read during the days of my adolescence and found my character so much similar to the fiercely independent protagonist Scarlett O’Hara. That was the first time in life I came to know, there are other women in this world who have similar attitude towards life the way I do. I also learnt life is kind enough to give us a first, a second, even a third chance; one should never lose hope and strive for greatness without having any room for regret.
5. How do you see the art of creating the Protagonist?
Creation of an absorbing protagonist with flesh and blood remains the biggest challenge for an author.
A great protagonist is one who has
i. An unique character that makes a reader curious to know more about him/her
ii. A problem or a secret that needs solving
iii. A will to act bravely when thrust into an extraordinary situation and overcome insurmountable odds by simply being bold
iv. And last but not least who has an interesting flaw. Maybe this flaw is the very thing that will allow her/him to survive and overcome his problems.
Also I feel it’s equally important to create a very fascinating as well as a more powerful antagonist to match as well as challenge the lead character. Being a female-centric story my lead characters are all women. While we may claim Renuka is my protagonist and Mandira the antagonist, I have tried to portray both characters with equal weightage where both have their virtues and vices, and in a third-person point of view nobody is an evil as we often come across in family dramas.
6. We loved your book . When are we getting your next work?
Writing can be fun, but it goes best if spontaneous. Of course I have started thinking over my next novel which would be a contemporary fiction, but at the moment my scribbling are in pieces of art that are just random splatters of paint. With time I will gather them to another picturesque tale of progress of womanhood. It’s a bit hard to commit on a timeline as its too early now.
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